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What Baltimore County kids need to compete

SchoolsApple iPhoneS. Dallas Dance

When today's high school seniors started kindergarten in 2000, there was no iPhone, text messaging was hardly used, and very few K-12 students took online classes.

While virtually every other arena has seen rapid change over the past decade, K-12 education has remained virtually the same. However, we cannot successfully educate today's students to succeed in tomorrow's world with yesterday's curriculum and instructional methods.

Together, we at the Baltimore County Board of Education and Baltimore County Public Schools propose to propel our school system and students forward with a bold new theory of action.

Beginning with this simple premise — that the goal of Baltimore County Public Schools is to graduate globally competitive students — we announced that our strategic plan for the next five years, "Blueprint 2.0," is based around this guiding principle: BCPS must ensure that every school has an equitable, effective digital learning environment, and every student has equitable access to learning and developing proficiency in a second language.

While generous sponsors enabled us to share this message in person Thursday with 1,000 stakeholders at our inaugural State of the Schools event, technology made it possible for us to share our message through a live-stream broadcast on the Internet.

Our students need the same tools and possibilities in the classroom. As we lay the foundation by preparing the curriculum and wireless infrastructure throughout the school system, we will be determining the best way to provide each of our students access to digital technology.

Technology allows our students access to more information and to interact with teachers and learners — not just in their classroom but across the world. Moreover, the information they access is more accurate and up to date. By the time a textbook can be written, reviewed, printed, selected and delivered to our schools, it is in many cases already obsolete. Increased technology would provide us a better way to use those textbook funds.

In addition, technology allows for students to work at their own pace and to receive instant feedback and assessment. It is important to note that we are not suggesting that technology replaces the teacher; nothing can do that. But it provides teachers a faster and better opportunity to determine what students understand and what knowledge they are able to apply. Teachers serve as vital guides for our students as they navigate the multiple streams of information they can now access and as they learn to analyze and use it.

We all know our students already benefit from technological advancements at home and in their social lives. There is no reason they should not reap the benefits of these advancements in our classrooms too. Our great teachers are asking us for more assistance to make the digital conversion, but it will be driven by our curriculum and our commitment to optimal outcomes for each child.

In addition, our students need to succeed in a world of many languages. This nation is more diverse than ever. Baltimore County is more diverse than ever. Technology and a global economy mean that the nations of the world are more interdependent. For this reason, 27 percent of companies surveyed say that they are more likely to hire someone who is multilingual, and reports show that people who are multilingual earn on average about 10 percent more.

Of course, the purpose of public education is not just about preparing students for the business arena. It is also about helping our students understand the world and compete and interact with their global counterparts who are, in some instances, learning two or more languages.

If we are committed to preparing our students for the 21st century, we must provide access to world language instruction at a much younger age and provide it in a consistent manner. This means offering the opportunity to take a language in elementary and middle school, with the ability to continue studying that same language in high school. Research indicates that students who begin learning a second language before adolescence are more likely to become fluent speakers and that they will have higher academic achievement overall.

Developing globally competitive graduates — this is our vision moving forward. We are asking the entire community to join us in this bold but achievable goal. It is right for our children, it is right for our schools, and it is right for our community, country and world.

Larry Schmidt is president of the Baltimore County Board of Education. S. Dallas Dance (ddance@bcps.org) is superintendent of Baltimore County Public Schools.

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